America rarely ever gets things wrong. It’s a country that's brought the world professional wrestling, the KFC Double Down, Kenny Powers, and America. But sometimes — daylight saving time, Taylor Hicks, pull-ups being included in the requirements for winning the Presidential Physical Fitness Award — America gets it horribly wrong. It pains me to say it, but Christian Laettner beating Tyler Hansbrough in a landslide to claim the title of the most hated college basketball player in the last 30 years is one of those times.
“But,” you’re probably saying, “Laettner winning this contest was obvious from the start. I’m not even sure why you guys bothered putting together the bracket. If Laettner had gone to North Carolina or Kentucky, there’s a good chance that they’d be the most hated team in college basketball. The man is almost solely responsible for Duke’s reputation, which is why if I were putting together a starting five of the most hated players in the last 30 years, Laettner would be all five.”
Look, I get it. Laettner's easy to hate. If you don’t hate him for being a pretty boy preppy who still somehow managed to be the best player in college basketball, you hate him for stomping on Aminu Timberlake’s chest. You hate him because of The Shot, or you hate him because this picture exists. All of these are valid reasons to hate the guy. And honestly, I might hate him, too, for all of these reasons. Except that I don’t hate him because one important thing trumps all of that: Christian Laettner was a benchwarmer for the greatest basketball team ever assembled, which makes him a demigod to guys like me.
Self-awareness is overrated, especially among the famous. Should it really be cause for celebration that some historic asshole has the wherewithal to recognize his asshole past? Should we forgive so easily, simply because a celebrity shows the common decency to admit past mistakes? Have our troll-convictions really become so soggy and desperate?
Congrats to Eric Montross, who — along with Christian Laettner, Rick Fox, and Tyler Hansbrough — advances to the Final Four of our Most Hated College Basketball Player bracket. If only CBS would give us the rights, we'd remix a ragey "One Shining Moment.”
As happy as Montross’s “win” is for me — I, too, sort of hate the guy — it's also a little sad. Because I'm not sure I’m going to hate a college basketball player the same way again.
First, here's why you picked Montross. He checked a ton of boxes.
In the early part of this century, a shift in power caused the lines of ACC hate to blur. Duke and Maryland were responsible for two of the first three national championships, and as North Carolina sputtered through the Matt Doherty era, the enmity between the Blue Devils and Terrapins came to a boil. “[It was worst] at Maryland,” J.J. Redick says. “That’s when there was still a rivalry there, dating back to the Miracle Minute and Maryland winning in 2002. It was pretty heated for my first couple years there.”
There were times when the hate actually was hateful. Shelden Williams carried a 2003 incident in College Park with him for his four years at Duke, and Redick said during one game members of the Maryland crowd invoked the name of his then 12-year-old sister.
It was an unusual evening in the Eliot Lounge, a dearly departed home for wayward journos on Massachusetts Avenue in Boston. It was not an overly unusual evening in the Eliot Lounge. It wasn’t anything like the evening when the Stanford marching band played the room. It wasn’t remotely like the evening when the guy brought in the horse. The bar for unusual evenings in the Eliot was set pretty high. Nevertheless, the several souls at the rail that night looked quizzically at the young man who’d come scrambling in looking for quarters for something we used to call a “pay phone.” The young man had locked his keys in his car, and he was going to be late for a big meeting with his prospective employers, and he needed to call his attorney to tell him what happened. People tried not to stare, but there was something familiar about him. Then, right at the end, just as bartender Tommy Leonard was counting out the quarters, the nickel dropped, as it were. The young man made The Face.
Holy shit, someone said, when the young man ran back out again. That was Danny Ainge.
Readers, hear me out. The last thing I want to do, in the midst of a "fun" bracket, is stir your blood to mutiny. I'm here to advance Psycho T to the next round, not to praise him. The editors have made Tyler Hansbrough a 1-seed in the '00s region, and the editors are all wise, honorable people. The hatred that college players inspire lives after their NCAA careers end, while the good is often hung in the rafters with their jerseys. So let it be with Psycho T. The Grantland editors have told you that he was a hated player. If that's true, it was a grievous fault, and as a top seed, he has grievously answered it. What private griefs the editors have, I don't know. But, they are wise and honorable, and will, no doubt, with reasons answer you.
I come not, friends, to steal away your hearts. I'm no great orator. I'm the same as you've always known me: A plain, blunt man who loves Tyler Hansbrough. If I were disposed to sway your minds to rage, I would do the editors wrong. Yet bear with me, because my heart is there in the bracket, with no. 50. I must pause until it comes back to me.
I can only tell you what you already know. I can only show you Psycho T's attributes, and let them speak for me.
With each Grantland bracket, there comes the unenviable task of paring down our original list to a final group of 32. This is never easy (sorry, Slim Charles), and usually leads to a few readers reminding us whose snub was most notable. This time, it was more than a few (there can only be eight from Duke, guys!). I guess we've learned that, yeah, we really do love to hate.
I have a confession — and that is, in most ways, I am wholly unqualified to write this. One day into our bracket to determine the most hated college basketball player of the past three(-ish) decades, and Patrick Ewing, the ’80s no. 1 seed, is done. The Grantland staff is full of Big East lifers who had a disdain for those Georgetown teams and Ewing’s college career. I did not — mostly because I was born more than two years after it ended. My sole connection to the 1985 NCAA tournament is that I count Rollie Massimino’s grandson among my close friends. That’s about where my Georgetown familiarity ends. And actually, I think that’s sort of the point.